Category Archives: politics

Child abuse, excessive caseloads, and Monroe County’s CPS

What happens when you call the CPS hotline. http://www.dorightbykids.org/.

The first part of the process when you call the CPS hotline.
http://www.dorightbykids.org/.

You know I rarely go on a public political rant, and I apologize for what I’m about to say, but I call bullshit on Monroe County’s Commissioner of Human Services, Corinda Crossdale.

Bull. Shit.

A little background: in November 2016, three-year-old Brook Stagles died from injuries suffered as a result of severe child abuse. Her injuries were so severe, according to news reports, that doctors in the emergency room at first thought she’d been hit by a car. Her father, Michael Stagles, was charged with criminally negligent homicide, and his girlfriend, Erica Bell, was charged with 2nd degree murder and 1st degree manslaughter.

The abusive situation had been reported to Monroe County Child Protective Services, but Brook’s grandfather, John Geer, believes the case slipped through the cracks due to a county department that is severely overburdened. Since Brook’s death, he has been outspoken in his criticism of the excessive caseloads CPS workers are carrying in the hopes that no other child has to suffer the same fate as his granddaughter.

Last week, local news station WHEC did a report on CPS caseloads, revealing that some caseworkers carry as many as 30 to 40 cases, far above the 12 cases recommended by experts like the Child Welfare League of America. Last night, 13WHAM did their own report, with similar findings.

The problem? While John Rabish, who sits on the board of the Federation of Social Workers, the union which represents social workers, says Monroe County’s CPS is in crisis, the Commissioner of Human Services in Monroe County disagrees.

In this 13WHAM investigation, Corinda Crossdale says: “I do not think we can make the assumption that every single case that our caseworkers work with are extraordinarily complicated.” In the WHEC story, she referred to some cases as “cases simply where the family needs help connecting to resources”.

I’m not privy to details about the inner workings of CPS. But I did work for a day care, and we were trained on what to do if we suspected any of our children were experiencing abuse or neglect. There’s a confidential number to call, which immediately begins an investigation. It’s no joke, every call is taken seriously, and even if the report turns out to be unfounded, a thorough investigation  has been set into motion.

cps-investigates-image

The process when CPS investigates a report. From the website http://www.dorightbykids.org/.

According to the county website, state law requires that an investigation “must start within 24 hours of the report, but often starts immediately.” A caseworker is sent to visit the family and talk to everyone involved – parents, extended family, mandated reporters like teachers or day care workers, whoever might have information regarding the situation. If the danger is imminent, action is taken right away. Whether the child stays in the home or not, the investigation continues. There are reports to be written, and court dates to appear at, and meetings to attend, hours and days spent investigating and evaluating and addressing the situation.

Take a moment to imagine the man hours it takes for one person to do this for 20 or 30 or 40 families simultaneously, and you realize very quickly that there are no  uncomplicated cases – “extraordinarily” or otherwise – when a child’s life and health and safety is on the line.

Or you can think about it this way. In 2010, the most recent year statistics were shared on the county website, 7,904 cases of abuse and neglect were reported in Monroe County. That was 21 new reports a day, 365 days a year. And even if a significant number of those cases were unfounded, due diligence needed to be done on each one to ensure that a child’s safety and well being are not in jeopardy.

And while Crossdale does compliment her employees as being “very resilient, very capable caseworkers”, she discounts the fact that they are also very human, and that there are only so many hours in a day for a caseworker to actually do the work, and that overwork on top of the daily exposure to abuse, neglect, and dangerous situations takes a toll on a caseworker’s own health and well being and family life.

Brook Stagles paid the ultimate price for the current situation CPS employees are facing, and kudos to John Geer for speaking out on her behalf, and on behalf of the overburdened, exhausted, defeated employees whose complaints have fallen on deaf ears. Maybe Brook’s voice, crying from the grave, will be the needed catalyst for change.

Because if Crossdale doesn’t stop trying to justify the obvious problems her department has, more children may suffer the same fate – and their blood will be on her hands.

End of rant. For the moment.

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Musing on pregnancy, abortion, and becoming a human

(This post originally ran on my blog at Patheos in July 2016)

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

Photo courtesy of Pixabay

I was listening to the radio yesterday, something I don’t usually do, addicted as I am to podcasts like “RadioLab” and “Welcome to Nightvale.” But a local talk show was on, and I left it on, because when I do listen to talk radio I make sure to listen to both conservative and liberal perspectives. I like to hear many sides of an issue as I ponder where I stand on it and how my decisions affect other people.

Anyway, this local host was talking to her guest about abortion and she made a comment that I can’t get out of my head. She said that there is only one point in time when two humans occupy the same body – pregnancy – and that if we’ve made a decision that one of those humans is dispensable it’s because we’ve made a decision that one of those lives is more valuable than the other.

Which is kind of a stumbling block to abortion when you’re of the mindset that all lives matter.

Yes, I understand that her comments are rooted in the belief that an unborn baby is a human at the moment of conception vs. a bunch of cells that may one day become a human but aren’t yet.

But there’s a fact about pregnancy that we all can agree on: at some point, two humans occupy the same body.

If you think about it, it’s like something from a science fiction story. Baby, in the womb of the mother, growing, developing, feeding, moving, kicking the woman in the ribs until her chest is numb. And then one day, it escapes from its host in an explosion of blood and fluids, gasping its first breath before going on to live and thrive and generally forget the host that facilitated its life until it needs an advance on its allowance.

But the magic! The miracle! A human inside of another human! A human, who will be born and become an intellectual, thinking, reasoning person, with ideas and thoughts and opinions, whose presence in the world will leave it changed forever, for better or worse.

Even more amazing, we all grew inside the womb of another human. All of us! Me! You! One minute we were nothing, and the next we were human, and regardless of at what point in a pregnancy you believe that happened, it happened inside the body of another human.

Have you ever thought about yourself in that way? Have you ever considered your own mother that way? Not just as the person who cooked and did laundry and told you to clean your room, but as a creature who literally allowed her body to be the incubator so you could eventually become you?

I really don’t have a point to make in this post. I’ve just been musing, as I often do, on the miracle of pregnancy and the alien-like way we make our way into this world, when the rules of time and space are suspended, allowing two living beings to occupy the same space at the same time.

Maybe I’m just giving you a chance to look at things from another perspective.

The election, fear, and an opportunity for change

The flags at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Highland Park, Rochester, NY.

The flags at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Highland Park, Rochester, NY.

A friend sent a text this morning asking how I was feeling about the election. This is what I told her:

“I’m completely fine. I voted third party and felt great about it. I don’t look to Washington to solve problems. I look at the people around me. And I have great faith in my friends, family, and neighbors and their ability to love each other and work together despite their differences. I’m a firm believer that if we did more of that we’d have less divisiveness. But hey, I’m an optimist. What can I say.”

Tuesday was definitely a surprising turn of events in this election season, and while I’m not sure the pundits have sorted out everything the people were saying, my gut tells me it had more to do with making a statement about politics as usual and less about supporting one candidate’s platform.

To be honest, had Bernie Sanders been the Democratic candidate, I have no doubt he’d be preparing to move into the White House right now. Trump was the best shake up available to voters, and I think they took it. A surprise? For many, yes, especially those in Washington and in the media. Does it leave us wondering what comes next? Sure does.

But rather than seeing fear, I see opportunity, a chance for us to reach not just across political aisles but across the street and being to rebuild our nation, one relationship at a time.

We the People.

Let’s start there.

If you don’t have a friend who disagrees with everything you believe, then you need to go find a new friend. And I’m not talking about those faceless “friends” on social media, those vague entities at which you sling anger-filled status updates without accountability. I mean real people you have to interact with face to face, one on one.

It’s a whole hell of a lot harder to be an ass when you’re sitting across the table from someone.

Break bread together. Grab a coffee. And not just once. Carve out time to sit and talk, once a week maybe, just for an hour. Get to know each other. Talk about your families, your jobs, your backgrounds. Talk about the things that you’re passionate about. See where you agree, and focus on that as you really get to know each other. Listen more than you talk. Judge less than you love. I promise you that, in time, you will see America in a whole new light.

Because we are an amazing people – creative, talented, diverse and beautiful. And we each contribute a thread to this tapestry that is our United States.

I know, because reaching out and talking face to face is what I’ve been trying to do over the last ten plus years, after I realized that I’d been living in a bubble and that my views on the world were naive at best, and often simply ignorant. I had to question everything I thought I believed and look myself in the mirror to decide if I liked what I saw. I made changes where necessary.

I know that the people who journeyed with me also had to do the same, and in the end I find myself ridiculously blessed with friends and confidantes across the political and social spectrum. Do we always agree? Nope. But do we respect each other? Yes.

If you’re not willing to take those same steps then I suggest that you are part of the problem.

Don’t be part of the problem. Be the solution.

Don’t allow yourself to remain mired in the political muck that has consumed America for the last months. Whatever side of the divide you were on, get up, dust yourself off, and begin listening to each other instead of yelling at each other.

Turn off the TV news channels, get off social media, and stop reacting to sound bites. Start interacting with people face to face, one on one, and listen to their stories.

Look for places where you can join forces to embrace that which we have in common while respecting our differences. Follow your passion, work towards your goals, and reach a hand across the aisle when necessary. Be willing to compromise.

Ask for forgiveness where you have wronged your fellow man, and offer forgiveness in return.

Focus on being the best You that you can be, and in doing so raise the bar for everyone around you.

Find opportunities to unite our individual strengths to move forward as one nation towards the common goals of liberty, justice, and the pursuit of happiness for all.

Like I said, I’m an optimist at heart. But maybe a little optimism is what we need right now.

(PS I just came across this great piece from one of my favorite…I want to say celebrities but he’s really just a regular guy with a big audience… Mike Rowe. He makes some great points worth mulling over – especially “We’ve survived 44 Presidents, and we’ll survive this one too” and “I’m worried because despising our candidates publicly is very different than despising the people who vote for them”.)

Election 2016: What would Susan B. Anthony do?

The grave site of Susan B. Anthony, in October 2016.

The grave site of Susan B. Anthony at Mt. Hope Cemetery, in October 2016.

There are just a few days until Election Day and I have to confess that I’m conflicted about what I’m going to do when I get to the ballot box. I’ve been supporting a third party candidate the entire season, but I’m also aware that this could be an historic election. Do I want to use my vote to help put the first woman in the Oval Office?

So I’m asking myself: What would Susan B. Anthony do?

As I’m working on my book about people buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery, I’ve been putting off writing about the famous abolitionist and suffragette. It’s a big story and I’m not sure how to pare it down, how to decide what angle I want to focus on.

I’ve decided that I’m going to visit her grave on Election Day, and start the story there.

Traditionally, on Election Day, people visit Susan B. Anthony’s grave and leave mementos, especially “I voted” stickers. (Side note: the folks at Mt. Hope Cemetery are begging people to NOT put stickers on her headstone. The gum and adhesive damages the fragile stone. My suggestion: be more creative with your token of affection.)

This year, public gatherings are already in the works for Tuesday as groups of people plan to trek to the Anthony grave site and pay their respects to the woman who fought tirelessly for women’s rights.

I suspect that a lot of women will be celebrating the opportunity to vote for the candidate who may actually become the first female President of the United States.

And here’s where I’m conflicted.

The rational part of me wants to vote for the candidate who best represents my views, and that’s not Hillary Clinton. I appreciate and respect her as an accomplished woman, but politically, we’re just not on the same page.

At the same time, to say I had the chance to vote for the first female president of the U.S. and I didn’t take it? Is that what I want to tell my grandchildren? Continue reading

50 thoughts on turning 50: #32 Nothing but the truth (but whose truth?)

I often read Young Adult books, because I like to see how authors are dealing with difficult topics in a way that young people can understand them.

In this election cycle, I’m reminded of the YA novel “Nothing But The Truth”, by Avi. I read it years ago, and have reread it several times, because it’s an excellent portrayal of how what we see on the evening news – or, with the advent of social media, online – is only a snippet of the truth. And how that truth is filtered and distilled down through the eyes of each person involved in the process of telling the story.

Here’s the premise of the “documentary novel”: Phillip Malloy is a ninth grade student. During the morning announcements, the school has a policy that all students must stand and remain silent during the playing of the National Anthem. Phillip, however, happens to be in a homeroom with a teacher who not only tolerates tomfoolery, he joins in it himself. So Phillip talks and does homework while the teacher cracks jokes. But when the school reassigns all students to new homerooms, Phillip finds himself in Mrs. Narwin’s homeroom. She also happens to be Phillip’s English teacher. And Mrs. Narwin takes the rule of silence during the National Anthem very seriously.

Phillip continues to play the class clown and hums along with the National Anthem in his new homeroom. The more Mrs. Narwin asks for silence, the more Phillip acts up, until she sends him to the principal’s office.

What follows next is a domino effect of events: suspension from school, a civil rights lawyer, national news. It’s a game of telephone, with lives and careers at stake.

What’s so brilliant about this book is that it’s told in transcript style, so readers see the actual conversations between teacher and student, parents and child, parents and local politician, politician and local journalist. There are letters from the teacher to her sister, newspaper clippings, memos from the school board to the teachers in the district. It allows the reader to see the motives behind all of the participants: a dedicated teacher who loves her students and doesn’t want this one punished (she just wants him to stop humming during the National Anthem); a student who knows he’s being a smart ass but doesn’t want to get in trouble at home (because there are bigger issues going on here, including parents expectations at odds with a child’s wants and needs); parents and politicians with their own agendas (and not always with the child’s best interests at heart); a school board on the eve of a budget vote (and dollars often take precedence over people); a journalist with her own goals (and an inability to get the facts right); a conservative talk show host charged with stirring up controversy (and ratings).

The reader gets to see how a complex situation gets boiled down to a headline or sound bite, until a teacher is ruined, parents are vindicated, a politician is elected, and a student is left to navigate the turmoil it all leaves behind.

It’s fiction…or is it? The book was published in 1991, but the premise – the way the story is manipulated, the way the public reacts to a news story without knowing any of the real story – happens every hour of every day. And with social media, every second of every minute of every hour.

This short fiction book – you can read it in a few hours – will remind you that behind every headline is a whole story, and behind every story are real people, with real lives, and that what we pass around as truth is really nothing more than rumor.

Go read it. Now. Before you spout off on social media or forward a story you haven’t actually verified or make a judgement based on a three minute news story that doesn’t begin to tell the whole story…and ruin relationships and friendships in the process. It’s an important lesson to learn in this emotionally charged election year.

This post is part of my series, “50 thoughts on turning 50″. Read more here.

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Banners, business, and God Bless America

Five Mile Cafe in Penfield, NY

Five Mile Cafe in Penfield, NY

NOTE: This post can be read in its entirety at my blog at Patheos.com; at the end of this excerpt you can click to continue reading there. For the record, I don’t care one way or the other if the banner hangs or not. What I care about is that the truth of this story is told.

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Banners, business, and God Bless America
by Joanne Brokaw

I was a little surprised yesterday when I noticed that a story about a local cafe owner and her kerfuffle over a banner that reads “God Bless America” was trending on Facebook.

Jennifer Aquino is at odds with the Town of Penfield over a banner she hung on her Five Mile Cafe back in June. And if you believe everything you read on social media, the town was unpatriotic in its insistence that she remove the banner just as we readied to celebrate Independence Day. In fact, a Fox News story reported that Aquino asked for permission to hang the banner and was denied, so she hung it anyway.

Not true. She had permission to hang the banner. She just overstepped the parameters.

On purpose.

But let’s go back a bit and take a closer look. Why? Because I used to own a small business in a town that had seriously tight rules about signs and banners, and I suspected when I saw this story a couple of weeks ago that the back and forth between business and board was all about permits and regulations, and not about squashing patriotism.

And if there’s one thing I hate it’s when people cry about their rights being violated when, in fact, they’re just mad that they didn’t get their way.

CLICK HERE TO CONTINUE READING AT PATHEOS

Honor our sister suffragists by voting in today’s primary

Susan B. Anthony's grave, a popular place to visit on election day.

Susan B. Anthony’s grave, a popular place to visit on election day.

It’s primary day in New York. Honor suffragists like Susan B. Anthony, who fought for the passage of the 19th amendment, and vote. Vote your conscience, vote your heart, vote your morals and beliefs. But make sure you vote.

Thank you, lady with the alligator purse.

This photo was taken at Mt. Hope Cemetery. Susan B. Anthony’s grave is located in Section C, Lot 93.